Friday, July 02, 2010

In Sorrow

I've been trying to write this post for a few days now. I can't quite figure out how I want to say it. But I feel uneasy not having said it. So I'm going for plain, short and simple.

Last week, while my wife and I were away (she had a business trip, I went along) our beloved lovebird Boojum died.

He was with a bird sitter, and flew into an uncurtained window. He died instantly.

It's hard to know what to say about the death of a pet. The loss is real and powerful, even if those of us who have experienced both would never confuse it with the death of a human being. -- And yet grief about a pet is often scorned or dismissed or mocked -- or, even when this is not true, it is hectored for its triviality (hence the disclaimer in the previous sentence, which I felt compelled to add not because I think it wasn't obvious but despite this).

Hard, too, because so many of the consolations (and rationalizations and excuses and translucent veils of denial) we grasp at when a human being we love dies fail with an animal. Perhaps the only thing we can say about an animal, from among all of the various things that we say to console ourselves about the death of people we loved, is that they lived a happy life, and died without pain. (Yes, I am aware that there are people who believe animals end up in heaven. All I can say is that I don't, for either animals or people, and nothing you say will convince me, so please don't try, not now, not here.)

Lived happily and died without pain: thankfully, for Boojum, this is true. It's hard to know what "living a good life" would be for a bird (let alone a human (or is it the other way around?)), but he was happy, as happy as we could make him. He was a strong flier -- or became one: when he came to us, his wings were clipped; but he relearned to fly, and flew frequently around the room when, once or twice a day, we let him out to do so -- a brave little cosmonaut, we thought of him. He explored, and learned to fly in all sorts of complicated and strong ways (almost hovering at times, for instance). At other times he would just circle, for the sheer joy of it.

And it is a consolation, if a small one, that he went out flying.

Once we returned from our trip -- and brought our surviving lovebird, Snark, safely home again -- we claimed the body; and while our son was with a babysitter, we buried him under a tree, and said, yes, a few words.

We have been worrying about Snark -- yet another way we deal with death: fret on the survivors -- but he seems fine, although the day we picked him up he was, understandably, a bit agitated. We are hoping to find a new bird to serve as a companion for Snark, since it is not good for lovebirds to live alone (hence the name). But it's hard to believe he does not, in whatever way the mind of a bird does, miss Boojum.

As do we.

Rest in peace, Boojum. Thank you for enriching our lives.


Holly said...

I'm very sorry about this. I lost a beloved cat about a decade back--she was hit by a car the day I finished the first draft of my dissertation. I was horribly grieved and hurt, and went looking for information on pet bereavement. I found very little--it didn't seem to be a loss most people took seriously. And even though I agree with you that the death of a human being and the death of an animal should not be confused, the fact of the matter is, I cried more when my cat died than when my grandmother died.

This raised some eyebrows when I told people this, but the fact was, my grandmother was old and infirm and her quality of life wasn't good, while my cat could have continued to live a healthy, happy life is she hadn't been struck by a car. On top of which, my grandmother didn't curl up and sleep on my chest every night. My life really altered when my cat died in ways it didn't when my grandmother did. It was an extremely difficult loss.

All of which is to say, I am very sorry for this loss and offer my condolences.

Stephen said...

Thanks, Holly. Means a lot.